Williamson: Covid is an 'opportunity' to drive education reforms

Innovations in education seen during the coronavirus pandemic such as blended learning should have a “lasting impact” beyond the next two years, the education secretary has said.

Gavin Williamson told a webinar organised by the Foundation for Education Development this morning that the pandemic had presented an “opportunity to make the changes that need to be made” to improve the education system.

As we move out of this, we have to use this as an opportunity to make the changes that need to be made

The schools community was forced to adapt quickly following the decision to partially close settings in March, with leaders forced to find ways to continue to educate millions of children remotely.

The scramble for solutions led to the creation of online learning platforms like the Oak National Academy, which received government funding to scale its model up.

As the government’s attention has turned to the return of pupils to schools and learning lost during the pandemic, other initiatives have emerged, including the DfE-funded National Tutoring Programmme.

During today’s webinar, which was convened to celebrate 150 years of state education, Williamson said he hoped future generations would look back on the “resilience, resourcefulness and ingenuity” shown by educators “in the most extreme of circumstances”.

“As we move out of this, we have to use this as an opportunity to make the changes that need to be made, to make sure that our education system is stronger for the future than it has been in the past,” he said.

Williamson said the pandemic had seen “new ideas emerge”, such as “new platforms, new ways of teaching, new ways of being able to ensure that children from whatever background are able to benefit”. He mentioned blended learning and singled out Oak and the NTP – two government backed schemes – for praise.

“All of these ideas will hopefully have a lasting impact not just for the next year or the next two years, but will have a lasting impact on the education of our children and make it better, make sure that they get more out of it,” he continued.

“Education should never be about standing still. It should never be saying that we’ve got everything right and therefore do not need to change. We should always be looking at how we can innovate, how we can reform, how we can drive change that will benefit children. That is what we are going to be doing as we come out of Covid.”

It comes after the government announced it would continue to fund the Oak National Academy to the tune of £4.3 million this year.